Liz Lochead translation Educating Agnes explores universal themes
Scotland's Makar translates Moliere's The School for Wives into Scots
Following on from the success of Tartuffe in 1985 and Miseryguts (nee The Misanthrope) in 2002, Scotland’s new makar Liz Lochhead will return once more here to translating the work of the 17th century French satirist Moliere into Scots, with the original rhyming couplets intact. This time the source material is The School for Wives, about a middle-aged man who schools the teenage girl he intends to marry in ignorance, in the hope she’ll end up unworldly but faithful. In Lochhead’s new title there’s also an explicit echo of a more contemporary touchstone, Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, reinforcing a sense of pervasive paternalism.
‘It’s been a while since I’ve worked with Liz,’ says director Tony Cownie, who has worked on all three of Lochhead’s Moliere adaptations, ‘but I love her fantastic use of the Scots dialogue, her understanding of the way we actually speak. The challenge then is to use her rhymes in a different way every time, because if you had to spend the evening listening to them bouncing back and forth it might get boring. Moliere’s characters use them like weapons, though, like it’s a verbal joust, and sometimes it’s as much about what they don’t say.’
Although Cownie feels the original shock value of the play has dissipated over the centuries, he still believes it touches upon universal themes. ‘The belief, for example, that you can mould a wife – that you can tamper with human nature, essentially – is quite ridiculous.’ He stops short of saying a feminist spin has been applied, but points out Agnes’s awakening of instinct during the course and believes the clear message is ‘absolutely, don’t underestimate women.’
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 8 Apr–Sat 7 May